By Shibani Mahtani and Kyaw Ye Lynn
(The Washington Post) — A Myanmar judge on Monday charged two Reuters journalists with violating the country’s colonial-era secrets act over their coverage of the Rohingya crisis. The two will now go to trial in what has been a closely watched test of press freedoms in the country, drawing condemnation from foreign governments and press watchdogs.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were charged with breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act, an offense punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They were arrested in December and accused of obtaining secret documents while reporting on the killing of 10 Rohingya boys and men in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
Judge U Ye Lwin, who has been pesiding over the trial, said the men have been charged for “getting, collecting and transferring secret documents regarding operations of the [Myanmar] police force.”
The charging decision means they will now be brought to trial, dragging out the case for several more weeks. It could be months before a ruling is reached on their guilt and whether they will be sentenced, and for how long. The two journalists entered a plea of not guilty.
[...] Media organizations and the international community see the closely watched case — packed with contradictions, conflicting accounts by police officers and absurd moments — as a litmus test for press freedom in Myanmar.
Article 19, a British press freedom watchdog, slammed the decision, saying it “casts doubt” on the judiciary’s independence and makes it complicit in the government’s long-standing efforts to block reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state.